Mountain Home’s Trauma-Informed Journey

We prioritize relationships over rules…within reason.

Unfortunately, as many as 90% of the moms who come to Mountain Home have experienced trauma, often as a child themselves. A mom may be simply standing in the kitchen making a peanut butter sandwich, when a seemingly innocuous sound triggers her back into the past, when she was an eight-year-old girl terrified of a caregiver’s wrath. The resulting behaviors can be extremely confusing to others who don’t understand her history or who don’t have the tools to help her cope.

For that reason, in 2016, Mountain Home joined hospitals, schools, and social-work agencies across the nation to incorporate what we know about trauma’s impact on the brain and body into our core policies, principles, and practices.


So far we’ve:

  • Researched best-practices for trauma-informed care in group home environments, and shared with all staff what we learned.
  • Revamped our residential rule-book for clients from a 41-page single-spaced list of commandments into a 14-page clarification of resident rights and responsibilities.
  • Transitioned to a collaborative-problem solving approach between staff and clients when problems arise.
  • Invested in staff training and a process of reflective supervision for staff, understanding that we each bring our own messy bits into our work with the moms and kids here.

Overall, the results have been strong!

  1. We’ve increased a sense of trust between staff and clients, reducing the number of evictions from our residential programs.
  2. We’ve reduced conflicts between client and staff, as we are more clear about what is really important in our program.
  3. We’ve improved communication among staff, with our direct-care and mental health programs more clearly aligned in approach.

Of course, everything hasn’t gone exactly as we expected…

Clients will appreciate our efforts and will voluntarily cooperate. Clients will continue to test boundaries. They will have outbursts and difficult behaviors. They are, after all, living with trauma. Our staff must work hard to clarify expectations and must constantly remind ourselves that our job is to help them learn coping and self-regulation skills.
Clients will see only positive changes in their lives due to our best-practices in care. Clients, of course, will experience many ups and downs. Our job is to help them harness their own resilience.
Clients will see staff as allies instead of rule-keepers. This happened, but takes time with each new resident. Trust must be built. Mistakes will be made on both sides, but we will become strong at the skill of repair.
There will be a trauma-informed guidebook that will tell us everything we need to know. We used a variety of manuals, attended trainings, and watched webinars, but ultimately we had to make the principles of trauma-informed care our own.
We will train all staff on trauma-informed principles and practices and they will implement immediately. No one learns everything immediately, and so much of the reality of trauma-informed care must be learned in real-life experiences. Training and reflective supervision must happen regularly.
We can abandon “points and levels” without a system of clear expectations and consequences. After we first got rid of our “points and levels” system, chaos erupted. Clients no longer knew what to expect. Staff were frustrated. Quickly, we implemented a system so that if clients violate their rights and responsibilities in the handbook, a staff works with them to fill out a collaborative problem solving worksheet. Together they decide on a strategy for improvement and on consequences that best fit the problematic behavior.

Despite the contrast between our expectations and the reality, research tells us that without support, the effects of trauma can impede a person’s ability to succeed in school, in relationships, in parenting, and can worse one’s health and quality of life. Happily, trauma-informed practices like the ones that we’re implementing at Mountain Home can promote resiliency in school, in relationships, in parenting, and can improve one’s health and quality of life. We understand that for moms and kids we serve, coping with past trauma may be a long journey. For our organization, too, we know we have to keep learning and moving forward.

We’re just grateful to be on the road to health and healing, together.

Crissie McMullan, Executive Director

Aubrey Reed, House Manager

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